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Bridge program job site inspires future builders
Sandy River bridges inspire Oregon's future construction workforce.
Apprenticeship tour
Baby boomers ─ born between 1946 and 1964 ─ make up more than 40 percent of the construction workforce. Over the next decade, this generation will begin to retire. If a replacement labor pool isn't trained now, the industry will soon be understaffed.
 
Contractors are hoping that millennials will come to their rescue. Born between 1980 and 1995, these 16- to 31-year-olds could be key members of the heavy highway trades in the near future.
 
Apprenticeship programs are one way that boomers can pass along their invaluable skills to the next generation of tradespeople, and work zone visits are an essential part of such training. The Oregon Department of Transportation's OTIA III bridge program recently hosted two groups of future apprentices at its Sandy River Bridge project site in Troutdale.
 
The Portland YouthBuilders construction program provides education, training and leadership development for men and women ages 17 to 24 who have not finished high school and face significant barriers to success. When their training is complete, students have preferred entry status into local construction apprenticeship programs. The Evening Trades Apprenticeship Preparations program, offered at Portland Community College, prepares men and women for lifelong careers in the trades. After an intensive 10-week training course, students can begin work right after they graduate.
 
On separate visits to the Sandy River Bridge work zone, 12 students from PYB and six students from ETAP learned firsthand what it takes to build a bridge that carries thousands of motorists every day. Mike Phillips, safety manager for prime contractor Hamilton Construction, kicked off each visit with a safety training session and then led the students on a tour of the busy project site.
 
In August, PYB students observed crews excavating, pile driving, placing formwork for concrete pours and installing drilled shaft foundations. During their visit in December, ETAP students watched the project team set up a gantry crane, a machine that allows crews to place bridge beams from the top down and eliminates the need for a work bridge in the river. In addition, crews were preparing the site for beam and T-section splicing — connecting the two components at ground level before they’re placed on the bridge.
 
"Observing highway construction at the Sandy River bridges piqued the students' interest," said Daniel Stinchfield, PYB's apprenticeship placement specialist and construction pre-apprenticeship training program coordinator. "They were excited to see that they too could play a role in building a major transportation project like this."
 
David Dixon, field coordinator for ODOT's Portland metro area in the Office of Civil Rights, attends career fairs and recruiting events statewide to raise awareness of apprenticeship opportunities.
 
"The variety of work that takes place during site visits allows students to see if construction culture is a good fit for their personality and skills," Dixon said.
 
Apprenticeship programs like PYB and ETAP are vital to building the next generation of the construction workforce. Exposing the millenial generation to ODOT projects like the Sandy River bridges can empower them to seek a career in the trades and someday teach their skills to the generation to follow — ensuring we can maintain a strong, enduring transportation infrastructure.